Justin Sampson ’05


What made you interested in increasing awareness of HIV?

I was going to be working for the Society for Democratic Initiatives in Sierra Leone and wanted to do something more while there related to development. We didn’t want to serve a need that wasn’t there so I stepped back and looked to see where there was a gap, as well as potential for doing some real good. It turned out that like in so many sub-Saharan African countries, HIV is a serious problem in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Young Sierra Leonean people are not receiving enough education about HIV in primary school or by other means. Furthermore, only about 1 out of every 100 Sierra Leonean males aged 14-24 are ever tested for HIV. One could see that HIV awareness was a serious problem in Sierra Leone, only bound to get worse.


How did you decide to use soccer (referred to as football in Africa) as the medium to spearhead this project?

The previous summer I’d followed Rhodes Alum Brian Gonzales’ Kickabout through East Africa, which was an amazing project, and had seen how influential football was in Africa. Football is an everyday way of life in Africa, an international language. I then realized that in order to educate the people of Sierra Leone about HIV, it had to be through football.


What else do you think this project could do for the Sierra Leonean people?

Currently, the project’s final form is continuing to change as the idea develops and we see just how much potential there is. We planned as well as we could before getting there, but as we’d been told by many people before we got here, the initial plan is only a starting point in a place like Sierra Leone. In terms of the football tournament, I want it to take place on a national scale. The finals will take place in Freetown but we are seeking to engage smaller communities throughout the country by having local, regional and a national level of the tournament. Not only will this increase the scope of our message but it will give participants the incentive of traveling to Freetown where players can be scouted by the local clubs. We envision the finals of the Freetown HIV Awareness cup as a festival with themes of community, football and education–complete with music, HIV educational speakers and seminars, appearances by Sierra Leonean athletes and celebrities, and a conference on football for general development.


How did your experiences at Rhodes influence you and possibly this project?

The lessons that I learned at Rhodes have had immense value in all aspects of my life. While at Rhodes I learned so much about myself and about the importance of contributing to your immediate community and the broader global community. It’s hard to believe you’re learning so much when you’re having such a great time living in Memphis, eating barbecue, playing soccer and making great friends. But that’s exactly what happens at Rhodes.

While at Rhodes I played soccer for all four years. My soccer career has probably had more of an impact on my life up to this point than anything, other than my parents and family. Generally, I think lessons relating to training, hard work, good health, creativity, winning and losing, and teamwork are applicable across many aspects of life. So of course, football is how I chose to try and make a difference here in Sierra Leone with the Freetown HIV Awareness Cup. It’s what I know and what I’m comfortable with. Fortunately, the same holds true for much of the world. We all speak different dialects but football truly is an international language.